Engineers weren't supposed to be this fearful of the future but the growing wave of panic in once-stellar sectors like financing and investment banking, real estate and retail is reminding even the best minds in the world of communication, electronics, information technology and manufacturing that they, too, are mere mortals.
The 2008 Annual EE Times Salary Survey revealed engineers have become as jittery as their counterparts in other economic segments as they brushed aside their still relatively high compensation packages to worry about turmoil on the global equity markets and the potentially negative impact on their retirement planning, career goals and even the future of any of their children who might desire to follow their professional footsteps.
The EE Times survey confirmed engineers all over the world regardless of location or national origin share many of these concerns. It also revealed engineers are no longer certain about many of the positive things that initially drew them to the profession and which they thought were more or less guaranteed by their career choice.
Six-figure salaries (for a majority of those in North America), comfortable retirement, even societal respect, for instance, might no longer be within reach of many engineers within a few years, at least based on the worries expressed by respondents to the survey.
Those fears present a paradox. A cursory glance at many of the charts accompanying these reports would seem to indicate a preponderance of respondents were clearly glad they chose to pursue a career in engineering. More than two-thirds were satisfied not only with their career but also with their employers and close to 90 percent were either "very satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" with the engineering profession.
So, what exactly has engineers tied up with worry aside from their inability to predict the future, a phenomenon common to mankind as a whole? The answer can be summed up in two words: globalization and outsourcing.
In Japan, Europe and North America, the three geographical regions polled by EE Times, engineers overwhelmingly expressed fear about globalization, outsourcing, staffing levels, compensation packages and job security. The future, they concluded, is cloudy and forces they have limited control over are shaping their role in it.
A mere 8 percent of respondents in North America, for instance, agree that globalization of the electronics industry over the past 20 years has improved opportunities for U.S. engineers. An even smaller percentage--6.2--believe "engineering is as stable a profession" today as it was 20 years ago.
The mystery deepens, though. Engineers, it seems, are not likely to sink into a depression because of globalization or outsourcing. Neither are they likely to abandon the engineering profession in droves. Consistently, 70 percent and above of the EE Times survey respondents say they "are satisfied with my career," believe "my situation is as good as or better than other professionals" and that "my company gives us a good place to work."
Even though they grumble that society does not appear to respect engineers like it once did, engineers are generally not looking to relocate from their home countries in search of opportunities elsewhere.
"See chart: Top career concerns